Although pundits will profess that “the days of black ties are long gone,” a quick glance around the Saturday night lobby of Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre proves to me that the new theatre dress code is a fashion show for the few who can afford it.
Those I met, or should I say viewed, during intermission at the Vancouver Opera Company’s performance of Rossini’s The Italian Girl of Algiers provided undeniable proof that some people go to the theatre simply to be seen.
There is an aura of “prestige” associated with High Art productions like the ballet, the symphony and the opera which attracts a strange assembly of upper-class people, seniors, executives, recognized artists, students, tourists and social elites.
Although many of them may be investors whose names are proudly displayed in the penultimate pages of the glossy 9’’x12’’ playbills, they are an audience with little interest in the production’s cultural significance or its effect on Vancouver’s theatre community (if it, in fact, has one).
Despite recent efforts to attract younger and hip-er audiences through reduced ticket prices, MANGAzines, free previews and explanatory lectures, the regular operatic crowd pays no mind to the pubescent tourists in their midst. They expect to see, and dress to please, the regular attendees whose tax-deductible donations make them feel good about the irrelevant aristocratic and archaic cultural institution into which they funnel their funds. Supporting the opera offers them an opportunity to dress up and impress the other social elites who can afford a night on the town. Their are tax dollars well spent, when you consider the unglamorous DTES options.
Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre can seat close to 3,000 people when filled to capacity. With ticket prices starting at $35 per seat and limited runs of only 4 to 5 performances per production, the fur coats and Fendi bags that float up and down the orchestra aisles classify a very different breed, or should I say brand, of theatergoer.
Far from those encountered at revolutionary and evolutionary theatre festivals who wear cotton and denim because the spectacle is the performance itself, not those watching it; the Queen E’s audience would shudder with discontent, and be mistaken for subversive performance artists themselves, were they to acknowledge or attend progressive arts events.
Although operatic performances may be sitting stagnantly in an antiquated cultural quagmire, at least their audience members are sitting very VERY pretty.